Teens are totally capable of practicing kindness and making positive contributions to society.

How to Guide Teenagers in Showing Kindness

by Nicole Vulcan

In a perfect world, your teen would always be sweet and loving and you'd never have a single conflict with her -- but if you actually have a teen, you know that's usually far from the reality. If you're struggling with a disrespectful or unkind teen, part of the problem might stem from the growing pains of moving from childhood into adulthood. With patience and understanding, you can help your teen make it through these difficult years and grow into a kind and compassionate individual.

Model kind behavior. Speak respectfully to your teen -- even when she tries your patience. The same goes for the other people in your household; work on open, honest and loving interactions. Practice makes perfect.

Practice random acts of kindness in your community. Allow the elderly woman in the grocery line to go ahead of you. Buy a cup of coffee for that busy mom in the line at the coffee shop. When you demonstrate your capacity for kindness in front of your teen she might be more likely to follow suit.

Encourage positive, non-violent media. Too often, TV, movies and the Internet feature violence, bickering, or ridiculous conflicts, which have a definite effect on the way your teen interacts with the rest of the world. According to 2013 information from the HealthyChildren.org, a website of the American Academy of Pediatrics, television shows that fill today's family hour -- from 8 to 9 p.m. -- have four times more sexual instances than those shown during the same time slot in 1976. When you do see instances of disrespect or violence, use it as an opportunity to talk with your teen about changing that violent paradigm. Child psychologist Dr. Cheryl Landy suggests talking with your teen about the history of violence in various cultures and how important it is for a culture to reevaluate itself and its practices so the culture can thrive.

Introduce your teen to some of the world's most prominent -- and inspirational -- leaders of the peace movement. If you want your teen to stop idolizing people who are not contributing to a positive self-image, she has to have other "idols" to replace them. Share biographies or famous quotes about Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King or Ghandi, suggests Dr. Landy.

Talk to your teen privately when you see her engaging in any unkind behaviors. Embarrassing her in front of her friends is not likely to win you any points -- but talking to her during an appropriate moment later on may help her see the error of her ways. Likewise, if you see any of her friends being unkind, bring it up during a private moment, letting the person know it's not OK to treat each other that way.

Encourage a "kindness chain" in your family. Send a random letter to your teen, letting her know one thing you really like about her. At the bottom of the letter, ask her to keep the chain going by sending a similar letter to another member of the family.

Expose your teen to those less fortunate than her. Volunteering at a local soup kitchen or traveling with an aid group to a developing country can be eye-opening experiences for teens and adults alike, helping them see there's a world of need out there and there's little room for wasting time on being mean or unkind to one another.


  • Mean or aggressive behavior is often a result of the person receiving that type of treatment from other people, notes Dr. Landy. If you're seeing lots of unkind behaviors from your teen, try to find out whether she's experiencing bullying or is being unfairly treated at school or among her group of friends.

About the Author

Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.

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